Immaculate Perception

Dr. Daniel Siegel assures us that there is no such animal as immaculate perception. But there are evidenced-based practices that can move us in the right direction. While away in Tofino, B.C. for a few days of beach walking, Ann and I have been working our way through his book, The Mindful Therapist. Dr. Siegel is an MD, (pediatrician and psychiatrist), who has spent a lot of time doing brain research. Here’s a two minute video where he offers a simple model of how the brain works.

One of the things I respect about him is that he’s not afraid, as a scientist, to distinguish between the mind and the brain. (He points out that in his research, 85% of teachers and clinicians of various therapeutic modalities don’t even bother to define “mind”—in fact, the majority simply reduce the mind to the brain.

For the record, here is his definition: “The mind is an embodied and relational process that regulates the flow of energy and information…an important function of the mind is the regulatory process, with two essential aspects: monitoring and modifying”. A critical implication of this definition that when it comes to the mind and the brain, we’re dealing with two-way traffic. It’s an important corrective to the position of Cordelia Fine in her entertaining book, A Mind of Its Own, which I wrote about in an earlier post. Siegel’s research highlights the importance of doing all that we can to strengthen the mind so that it can be in the driver’s seat, and put the marvelous instrument that is our brain to work for us.

The mind monitors the massive flow of energy and information that is the sea we swim in. This field of energy/information shows up in/as and through relationships (with people and with nature) and our own bodies. The includes our five senses, and also what he calls the sixth sense—what he calls “interoception”—our gut feelings (or intuition) about something. Importantly, we are able to choose how we interpret these signals and what we want our brains to do with them. This constitutes the modifying aspect of his definition. If we don’t consciously strengthen our minds, however, it’s more likely that our brains will in fact swing us around by the tail.

He presents a worldview that is comprised of three fundamental realms: the field of infinite possibility; the plane of probability; and the peak of activation. If we are not dipping into the field of infinite possibility (which he calls “presence” or mindfulness), we are limited by probability templates that we formed in the past, so that what eventually manifests in thought, feeling, attitude, or behavior (peak of activation) will be old beans warmed up at best.

(For all of you theologians, I found myself thinking about these three realms in Trinitarian language: the Father/Mother as the field of infinite possibility; the Spirit as the plane of probability; and the Son/Christ as the peak of activation or incarnation.) Siegel is not predisposed to such metaphysical meanderings, but I would say that he does have deeply spiritual instincts.

The practices involve learning to rest regularly in the field of infinite possibility. We do this by practicing the skill and competency of mindfulness (or “Mindsight”). I’ll write more about this in a future blog, but for now I’ll just say how grateful I am to find somebody who grounds his research and take on the world in hard science using the language of correlation between brain and mind, rather than reducing mind to the brain. Even if we’ll never achieve immaculate perception, his research and rigorous practice techniques, can help at least to apply some vinegar and water to the windows through which we see our worlds.

Here Siegel talks about the relationship between “triangle of well-being: the mind, brain, and relationships.


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